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Showing posts from January, 2010

The Sunday Salon

Well, it’s been cold here this weekend, with a healthy dose of snow yesterday. Good thing I got my errands in yesterday before it all started! I spent much of the weekend indoors, reading and watching TV. This week I finished reading The Love Knot; read The Victory, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (the 12th book in the Morland Dynasty series); and yesterday afternoon I finished an ARC of Heresy, by SJ Parris, which came to me courtesy of the Vine.

Also reading intermittently this week (and probably well into this next) was the 800-page-plus collection of Mitford letters, edited by Charlotte Mosley (The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters. I'm using it for the A to Z Challenge, and cheating just a bit; I'm taking the X from the word six and using the book as my X title). It’s been my bedside book this past week, and I’ve been reading a bit at a time before bed. Currently about halfway through and enjoying it immensely. This compilation is only about 5% of the total collection of 12,0…

Weekly Geeks

For this week's Weekly Geeks, share with us the books which call out to you during the cold, wintry months. Are there genres which appeal to you most? Why do you think you are drawn to these types of books during winter? Do you have some book recommendations for other readers who are looking for some escape from the blustery weather? Give us some of your favorites and tell us why you recommend them.

As "extra credit" why not share some photos of what the weather looks like outside your home...or where you curl up to read when 'the weather outside is frightening.'

Seasonal reading: what a great topic! Especially since it’s 18 degrees F here in southeastern Pennsylvania. I frequently gravitate towards chunksters in the winter; a great read towards this end is Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour, or MM Kaye’s The Far Pavilions. I also recommend anything by Dorothy Whipple as a good winter read by the fire.

I also tend to go for books with a darker theme, such as…

Friday Finds

I haven’t done these is a while, have I? Here’s a selection fo books I’ve heard about recently:

Spooky Little Girl, by Laurie Notaro. Her latest book, which is coming out in April. Don’t know too much about it, except that the subtitle is “a novel,” which is a departure from her usual collection of humor essays (though she’s written another novel as well).

Testament, by Alis Hawkins. Timeslip novel that goes back and forth between the present day and the 14th century.

Heresy, by SJ Parris. Historical novel that I’m receiving through the Amazon Vine program

The Sheen on the Silk, by Anne Perry. A stand-alone novel set in 13th-century Constantinople; another Vine item.

Hangman Blind, by Cassandra Clark. Mystery set in 14th century York. Same time period as Candace Robb’s Owen Archer series, but a totally different “detective.”

The Creation of Eve, by Lynne Cullen. I’ve recently heard that I’ll be receiving an ARC of this.

What have you heard about this week?

Review: Twilight of Avalon, by Anna Elliott

Pages: 448
Original publication date: 2009
My edition: 2009 (Touchstone)
Why I decided to read: Vague interest in Arthurian legends/early medieval history.
How I acquired my copy: bought with a giftcard at Barnes & Noble.
I have to say right off the bat that this book wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I was expecting (and maybe dreading, a bit) a fantasy-ish retelling of the Trystan and Isolde story. But what Anna Elliott does here, to my delighted surprise, is combine elements of the legends with what is known about the early Middle Ages—in this case, the invasions of the Saxons in the 5th and 6th centuries. Most of the Trystan and Isolde stories are based on those written down in the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries, and are therefore done in the tradition of courtly romances. Anna Elliott’s rendition is much more realistic.

The story opens just after the death of Isolde’s husband Constantine, the High King of Britain. Immediately, Lord Marche begins jockeying for power, quickly becom…

Cover Deja-Vu# 19

This is the Dover Thrift edition of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband, which shares a cover image with these covers right here.

Reaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

--Grab your current read
--Let the book open to a random page.
--Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
--You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from… that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

“Lucy delayed writing to Weston about the baby until she had heard from Chetwyn, and so when the Nemesis put into Torbay, on New Year’s Eve, there was no news for him. The fleet remained at anchor only one day, before returning to station, but further westerly gales followed, at at the end of January the fleet was forced again to run for shelter to Torbay.”

--From The Victory, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Review: Fidelity, by Susan Glaspell

Pages: 442
Original pulication date: 1915
My edition: 2009 (Persephone)
Why I decided to read: Browse on the Persephone website
How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription received for Christmas
Fidelity is set in Freeport, a small Midwestern town that, ironically, is neither a “port” nor “free.” Ruth Holland shocks the town by running away with a married man. Eleven years later, as her father is dying, she comes back to Freeport, and faces the censure of the townspeople.

The novel, published in 1915, is the story of what happens when a young woman chooses her own happiness over that of other people. The novel asks, which is more important, “society?” Or the need for an individual to be “free?” It’s not until after Ruth returns to Freeport that she realizes the effect her actions have had upon the rest of the town—and that she starts to feel remorse for how much she has hurt them. Unusually, this is a novel about marital infidelity that is told from the point of view of “the other woman…

The Sunday Salon

Happy Sunday, everyone!

I spent most of yesterday working on the blog—I wrote a few reviews (I’ve scheduled them to be posted within the next few weeks or so), and I worked on my review database. I’ve decided that, in addition to categorizing them alphabetically by author, I’m going to organize them alphabetically by title as well. I’ve created each of the posts in my separate blog for review links; now I just have to do all the linking! The review data base can be found under the header of the main blog, if you’re reading this post through a feed reader. I'm still working on how to organize it on the page, so please let me know what you think of it! I'd love to make tabs at the top like I've seen other bloggers do, but I don't know how to do it with Blogger. Anyone know how? Any pointers would be greatly appreciated!

I’ve also done a bit of reading this week. I finished Within the Hollow Crown, which is an advance copy of a reprint of one of Margaret Campbell Barnes’s b…

Review: The Queen's Governess, by Karen Harper

Pages: 368
Original publication date: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Putnam)
Why I decided to read: I've enjoyed Karen Harper's other books in the past
How I acquired my copy: ARC sent via the publisher
The Queen’s Governess is the story of Kat Ashley (nee Champernowne), governess to Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth I. Kat, like the Tudors and Boleyns (and Thomas Cromwell, for that matter), literally came from nowhere, plucked from obscurity by Thomas Cromwell and placed in the household of Anne Boleyn. The Tudor court was full of self-made men and women, and Kat became one of those who fought for her reputation in a place when one’s position there was uncertain. Kat Ashley became the Princess’s governess in 1537, eventually becoming one of Elizabeth’s closest confidants and First Lady of the Bedchamber. The novel opens when Kat is a young girl and meets Thomas Cromwell by fortuitous chance, and closes when Elizabeth becomes Queen.

I wanted to like this novel better than I did. Ka…

Review: The Book of Fires, by Jane Borodale

Pages: 368
Original publication date: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Viking)
How I acquired my copy: ARC sent via the publisher
The Book of Fires is the story of Agnes Trussel, a teenage girl from the country who becomes pregnant and, stealing coins from her dead neighbor, runs away to London, where she obtains a job as assistant to a fireworks maker, John Blacklock. The novel covers the course of Agnes's pregnancy, from late 1752 to early 1753.

I both like and dislike this novel, which I know is a contradiction—much like the character of Agnes Trussell. I think my biggest problem with this novel is that I didn’t totally believe her as a narrator—she’s an uneducated teenager from the country, yet she speaks in this upper class voice. On one hand, she’s intelligent, but on the other, she’s so incredibly stupid about human nature. Did she really think that nobody in John Blacklock’s house would notice that she was pregnant? Did she really think that her plan regarding Cornelius Soul would work o…

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

--Grab your current read
--Let the book open to a random page.
--Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
--You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from… that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

“The man at the Clos des Cloches picked up the phone on the second ring. It wasn’t Armand Valcourt.”

--From The Splendour Falls, by Susanna Kearsley

Review: Small Wars, by Sadie Jones

Pages: 384
Original publication date: 2009
My edition: 2010 (Harper)
How I acquired my copy: ARC through the Amazon Vine program
Set in 1956 in Cyprus during one of the “small wars” that the British fought after World War II, this novel focuses on the story of Hal Treherne, a major in the British army who is posted to Cyprus. His wife and their two small daughters join him there. Amid the violence and fighting against EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kypriou Agonistou), Hal and Clara find that their relationship suffers.

It’s very difficult to review a novel such as this one. Small Wars is a character-driven novel. It’s an intriguing look at the war a war, even a small one, can have such a strong psychological impact on someone who is conditioned to withstand it. The novel is often bleak; danger and even death are imminent in this novel. And yet the military action is such a strong contrast to the activities of the British colonists (their club in Nicosia and life on the military base, for example…

Review: Wildfire at Midnight, by Mary Stewart

Pages: 336
Original publication date: 1956
My edition: 2003 (Harper Torch)
How I acquired my copy: bought used at a local bookstore
Mary Stewart’s novels are always good comfort reads. There’s definitely a formula to them—they always take place in an exotic location, and feature a smart, somewhat skeptical heroince (who’s usually in her mid to late twenties). Throw in some romance and suspense, and you have the recipe for a really fun, atmospheric read. Wildfire at Midnight is no exception to this.

Giannetta Drury is a model, who decides to take a break from London to visit the Island of Skye, up in the Hebrides. She stays at a local hotel, but is perturbed when her ex husband, Nicholas, is also one of the guests there--ouch, how awkward! As Giannetta becomes more familiar with the other guests at the hotel, she learns the story of the murder of a young local girl, whose throat was brutally cut. But as events unfold, it turns out that the murderer hasn’t yet finished their work…

Wildfire a…

The Sunday Salon

It’s a quiet Sunday here; a usual week at work, too. I’ve spent most of the weekend watching episodes of Are You Being Served? and Upstairs, Downstairs (again!).

In terms of reading, not much has been going on in that department; I read O, Juliet, by Robin Maxwell, and The Road to Jerusalem, by Jan Guillou. The latter book, although only 380-ish pages, took me the better part of the week to read.

I’m currently reading, and enjoying, another Persephone: The Carlyles at Home, by Thea Holme. It’s nonfiction (the first nonfiction from Persephone that I’ve read), about Thomas and Jane Carlyle and the home they rented at 5 Cheyne Row, London, for over thirty years (1830s-60s; coincidentally, Jane's 209th birthday was on this past Thursday). The book is not so much about their stormy relationship as it is about their domestic arrangements, from clothing to the Servant Problem to the wacky, noisy neighbors next door at number 6. The book draws heavily from the massive correspondence between…

Review: Fire From Heaven, by Mary Renault

Fire From Heaven is the story of Alexander the Great, the legendary fourth-century BC king and emperor who succeeded after his father was killed. He had a short lifespan (he died at the age to 32), but he had an incredible life and career, which Mary Renault attempts to recreate in this novel.

Alexander in this novel seems much older than he really is; but that’s because he’s precocious. Alexander’s a fascinating man, made even more fascinating my all that he accomplished in 33 years. Alexander is pretty much legendary, so Mary Renault was a bit ambitious in the writing of this novel.

I have to admit that I’m a bit out of my element here in terms of the historical period, since I don’t read much fiction set in ancient Greece. But the historical detail is deeply evocative; King Phillip’s court is beautifully rendered here. It’s clear that Mary Renault really, really researched her subject matter before writing, and that she has a deep understanding of, and empathy for, Alexander. But mos…

Review: Nanny Returns, by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Nanny Returns, the sequel to The Nanny Diaries, is a rather disappointing novel. Twelve years after the disastrous end to Nanny’s employment with the Xs, Nanny is back in New York after a number of years living overseas with her husband, Ryan (previously known as the Harvard Hottie). Now she’s an educational consultant, called in to help the Jarndyce Academy with their staffing issues. One day, Nanny’s former charge, Grayer, ends up on her doorstep, and Nanny finds herself one again thrust into the world of the Manhattan elite and their children.

Well, I felt a little bit let down by this novel. Well, really, a lot. The Nanny Diaries had charm and wit; this book simply fell flat for me. One-dimensional, stereotypical characters abound; the prose is over overwritten, and the people-don’t-talk-like-this-in-real-life dialogue really got to me after a while. In The Nanny Diaries, I found myself emotionally invested in Nanny and HH’s budding relationship; but since he’s not really present i…

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

--Grab your current read
--Let the book open to a random page.
--Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
--You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from… that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

“The monk explained that as far as he understood it was a question of cleaning and drying out the sores. Boiled and consecrated water for washing, then clean air and sunshine, should clean out the abscesses in about a week.”

--From The Road to Jerusalem, by Jan Guillou

Review: Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin

Alice I Have Been is the story of Alice Liddell, the “real” Alice in Wonderland. She met Charles Dodgson at the age of seven, and helped inspire his classic children’s novel. Later, she supposedly had a relationship with Price Leopold, one of Queen Victoria’s sons (never definitively proved; the author gives it much more importance than it might actually have been), married an English country gentleman, and had three sons.

I have mixed feelings about Alice I Have Been. On the one hand, it’s a well-written and evocative story of a young woman’s growth to adulthood. It kept me engaged all the way through, and the book had almost a magical tone to it. On the other, I felt that there definitely were some weaknesses.

The author takes a lot of liberty with the known historical facts. First, it is still debated about what really happened to cause the break between Dodgson and the Liddells. Melanie Benjamin attempts to fill in the blanks; and while she makes an admirable effort, I didn’t, in th…

Review: The Swan Thieves, by Elizabeth Kostova

Disclaimer: I couldn't finish this book. I barely made it past page 100, where I knew I had to stop.

I had such high hopes for this novel. I really enjoyed The Historian, so I thought I couldn’t go wrong with Kostova’s second book, a novel about Impressionism and psychology. I’m afraid she suffered a little bit from second-novel-itis this time, as she’s written a novel that left me scratching my head quite a bit. I loved the premise: psychology and art are two things that you don’t usually see thrown in together in a novel. It’s a different subject matter altogether from The Historian, but I was hopeful nonetheless. Oh, how it falls short of expectations. I found that I was struggling to work my way through this sleeper of a novel. And the fact that I just described this book as “work” should tell you a lot about what I thought. Novels should be pleasure, not work.

First, the author gives a lot of detail. A lot. Excruciatingly, extraneously so. Need directions from Washington, D.C. …

The Sunday Salon

Happy Sunday! This weekend has been eventful; last night was the annual holiday party for work downtown. It’s a huge event—apparently, there were about 700 people there (employees plus guests plus other assorted people connected to the company who were invited). It was a semi-formal event, and people got pretty dressed up for it. It was pretty good—we’re a company with eleven different locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, so it was good to see people I haven’t seen in a long time. Regarding what I wore, I hate shopping, so what my mom did on Friday afternoon was go shopping for me! She basically bought a few options, had me try them on at home, and then returned what I didn't want. I eventually settled on a cocktail dress with black velvet sleves, with the rest blue satin. It turns out that I've lost a lot of weight recently, so it was amazing that she got my new size right. And I'm tinier than I thought I was!

At work, due to the holidays this week was the first five-…

Cover Deja-Vu #18

Here are three covers that are close enough to one another. I mentioned in a post about a year ago that the over of Northanger Abbey and Tasha Alexander's Only to Deceive were similar; here's the cover of Laura Joh Rowland's forthcoming book, Bedlam: The Further Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte, coming out in May (only the image here is obviously reversed). My review of The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte can be found here.

Review: Little Bird of Heaven, by Joyce Carol Oates

I first discovered Joyce Carol Oates about ten years ago, when I read one of her short stories (“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” It’s a MUST read, by the way). I fell in love with her stories and novels because of the subject matter; Oates’s novels usually deal with obsession usually of the sexual kind (them is a perfect example of this). Oates’s novels are always dark and gritty, never easy reading but somehow satisfying nonetheless. Little Bird of Heaven is Oates at her best.

The setting is a working-class town in upstate New York (typical Oates) in the 1980s. The story isn’t told linearly, but unfolds gradually over time. Some of the information we’re given is repeated, but each time the story is told from a different point of view. Krista Diehl is the daughter of Eddy Diehl, suspected of but never charged with the murder of a local singer named Zoe Kruller, with whom he was romantically involved. On the other side of the coin is Aaron Kruller, the woman’s son. Both he an…

Review: Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier

Remarkable Creatures is the “remarkable” story of Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Anning, two female paleontologists living in 1810s and ‘20s Lyme Regis, England. They were two different women: one a lady who moves to the seaside in light of her spinster status (at age 25, which made me laugh); and the other a working-class girl, twenty years apart in age but drawn together by their love of fossils.

I read this book in one sitting—sitting in the backseat of a car driving across Pennsylvania, within the space of four hours or so. I’m lucky that this was one of the books I brought along on my trip; this is the kind of story that really draws the reader in. What I love of Tracy Chevalier’s novels, both this one and her previous ones, is that she’s so versatile. She really gets to know her subject matter, researching it thoroughly. Paleontology is not my thing, but Tracy Chevalier makes it interesting for even the lay person to read about.

And yet, this book isn’t solely about paleontology; it’s…

Review: The Lady in the Tower, by Alison Weir

The Lady in the Tower is the story Anne Boleyn—or, really, the story of her downfall, focusing specifically on the last four months of her life in 1536. It opens on the day of that now-famous joust, and continues through the executions of Anne and her supposed lovers, and gives a “what happened later” about some of the major players from one of the most infamous judicial trials of English history.

It’s a pretty solid book, in which Alison Weir examines closely the primary source material in order to draw her own conclusions about what happened. In my case, she’s really preaching to the choir about Anne’s innocence in the charges laid against her (as Weir says, her highest ambition was to become Queen, so why would she have several meaningless affairs, without anyone knowing, in a court where secrets weren’t kept for long?). Although the story of Anne Boleyn has been told over and over again, in fiction and nonfiction books as well as film, Weir manages to make it interesting again. It’…

The Sunday Salon: first of 2010

It’s been a long, lazy weekend; I had Friday off work, and I’ve spent the weekend doing pretty much nothing but lay around! I meant to get to the gym this weekend, but never really made it off the couch. New Year’s Eve was spent watching movies (we’ve been on a James Bond kick, watching all the Sean Connery ones), then on New Year’s day went to see The Young Victoria, which is EXCELLENT, going far beyond the old good acting and costumes thing. It’s a really beautiful film, and one you must see if you haven’t already.

As for books, the year has started out slowly. I’ve been reading less than usual lately, mostly because I’ve been re-watching Upstairs, Downstairs—I’m on the first disc of the second season, where Sarah has come back to cause more trouble, Thomas is hired as manservant, and Elizabeth (not one of my favorite characters, as she seemed a bit hypocritical to me at times) is beginning married life. It’s a wonderful series, and I could watch it over and over again (the transfer …

Review: Saplings, by Noel Streatfeild

Noel Streatfeild is better known for her children’s books, particularly the Shoe books, but she also wrote novels for adults, especially one about children for adults, Saplings. In it, the children in question are the Wiltshires, Laurel, Tony, Kim, and Tueday. The novel opens with an idyllic seaside holiday trip that quickly becomes overshadowed by the war, which over the course of the novel will have a strong effect on all of the Wiltshire family, adults and children alike.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read any of the Shoe books, but I do remember, and what is apparent here, is that Streatfeild excels at writing from the perspective of children and adolescents (though of course here the subject matter is a lot darker). The war has a mostly adverse effect on the Wiltshire children, and the author captures brilliantly the uncertainty and danger of both the war and of growing up—which in and of itself can be a bit like the war at times!

The novel was published in 1945, and this story …

2009: the year in review

Oh, goodness, is it really 2010 already? Happy new year! Though, technically, the new decade doesn’t start until next year. It seems like yesterday I was standing in some stranger’s backyard in London watching fireworks in celebration of Y2K (my family had been vacationing in Egypt for Christmas—in a mostly Muslim country, go figure—and we stopped in London on our way back to the States). That was the year that Robbie Martin’s “Millennium” was playing, over and over again! I wasn’t keeping a reading journal or keeping track of what I read back then, but I do remember what I read in December or January of that year. Death on the Nile was one, as was One Hundred Years of Solitude (I was on a Gabriel Garcia Marquez kick that fall and winter, and read everything I could get my hands on by him). I also read a fair bit of Judith Tarr that winter.

As for five years ago, this time last fall and winter, I read books like I Am Charlotte Simmons (memorable because it was awful), a bit of Jean Pla…

Review: Tulip Fever, by Deborah Moggach

Set in Amsterdam in 1636, Tulip Fever is a novel of passion and deception in Amsterdam, right as the craze for tulips occurs, at a time when the Dutch were some of the wealthiest people in the early modern world. Sophia is the wife of Cornelis Sandvoort, a prosperous merchant who commissions a portrait to be painted of him and his wife. In the process, Sophia falls in love with the painter, Jan van Loos. Their relationship is carried on with the complicity of the maid, Maria, and has consequences for everyone, both in the house and outside it.

I was a little put off by the present-tense narration, and the fact that the point of view kept changing so often. But the more I read, the more I enjoyed this book. The book is sad in tone, and skimps on characterization. But the books excels in terms of plot and setting—every little nuance of 17th-century Amsterdam is described in deep detail. It’s a well-written novel, but the story is simply told at the same time.

There are a few unlikely coin…

2010 Books

January:
1. Fidelity, by Susan Glaspell
2. The Queen’s Governess, by Karen Harper
3. Twilight of Avalon, by Anna Elliott*
4. O Juliet, by Robin Maxwell
5. Road to Jerusalem, by Jan Guillou*
6. The Carlyles at Home, by Thea Holme
7. Within the Hollow Crown, by Margaret Campbell Barnes
8. The Splendour Falls, by Susanna Kearsley
9. The Love Knot, by Elizabeth Chadwick
10. The Victory, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles*
11. Heresy, by SJ Parris

February:
1. The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, ed. by Charlotte Mosley
2. Someone at a Distance, by Dorothy Whipple
3. The Unquiet Bones, by Melvin Starr*
4. Brigid of Kildare, by Heather Terrell
5. A Hollow Crown, by Helen Hollick
6. The Regency, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles*
7. Island of Ghosts, by Gillian Bradshaw
8. The Dead Travel Fast, by Deanna Raybourn*
9. The Brontes Went to Woolworths, by Rachel Ferguson
10. Wild Romance, by Chloe Schama
11. The Sheen on the Silk, by Anne Perry
12. The Lute Player, by Norah Lofts
13. Mister Slaughter, by Robert McCammon*

March:
1. Fit…